February 15, 2007


Son King: Further confirmation that the wrong Bush brother was
elected president : a review of Jeb by S.V. Date (Phillip Longman, Washington Monthly)

Dáte, who covered and clashed with Bush for seven years as a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, makes no pretext of neutrality. That's okay by me. It's his book, and there's plenty about Jeb Bush and his policies to dislike, including his disdainful treatment of the reporters seeking access to public documents. But Dáte is much better at setting down facts than he is at making consistent formulations about their meaning. At one point, for example, he tells us that not only was Bush intent on favoring business and dismantling Florida's government, he also "tried to run Florida like it was the Soviet Russia." Don't you hate those Communist dictators who favor business?

Still, Dáte wants people to read his book, and that means he has to convince us that Bush's record and character are strong enough that he just might wind up being elected president despite his older brother's seeming ruination of the family name. The result is an imperative to build Jeb up as presidential material while also tearing him down. This, plus Dáte's simple sloppiness in making his charges, leads to a series of what might be called "backhanded insults," derogatory assertions that Dáte formulates in such a way that the more you think about them the more you cannot help but see them as compliments.

For example, one of Dáte's major themes is that Jeb is dangerously arrogant. Indeed, according to Dáte, the enormity of his ego is such that he doesn't let himself get pushed around by campaign contributors. "Jeb personally does not go out of his way to reward political donors with contracts or anything else," Dáte tells us, "because he truly believes he is doing us all a favor by serving as our leader." Gee, does that mean Jeb's an honest politician? [...]

Even in trying to question Jeb's commitment to public life, Dáte winds up complimenting him. Dáte writes of Bush, "If he truly wanted to be a public servant, he would be angling to run FEMA. His experience in Florida suggests he would be good at it, and God knows the nation needs someone good in that job."

If there is a smoking gun in the book, I can't find it. Bush exploited changes in the state constitution that gave him far more executive power than any previous Florida governor. This power was what allowed him to take on bold (if often, in my view, misguided) efforts at revamping Florida's education system, including a rigorous standardized testing program passed before No Child Left Behind. His enhanced constitutional powers were not enough to keep the courts from ultimately striking down his equally bold school voucher and charter school initiatives, but they were sufficient to allow Jeb to privatize many other state functions, from processing Medicaid third-party payments to collecting highway tolls and managing the state lottery. For better or for worse, Jeb Bush shook up Florida's government and many of its entrenched special interests and power centers.

All this made him a lot of enemies in the legislature. And the press had to get used to working with a strong governor who didn't have to rely much on their approval. But that doesn't make Jeb a dictator. Indeed, after years of watching Florida's elected cabinet members get captured by the special interests they regulated, I'm glad Florida's governor now gets to appoint his own education secretary, for example, as well as his own comptroller and bank examiners, even if I disagree with this particular governor's choices and policies. In allowing for a strong executive, Florida is simply overcoming its Confederate past and becoming like most other states.

He's the 800 lb. gorilla in the '08 campaign -- a candidate who is all strengths and no weaknesses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 15, 2007 1:33 PM

Except for his last name, unfortunately. I believe Jeb would make a fine president but I do not see how he can overcome name fatigue.

Posted by: Rick T. at February 15, 2007 2:01 PM

I thought you were all moist for McCain.
And isn't Bush name a weakness? Just as the Clinton name is a weakness for Hilly? While this is admittedly anecdotal, I know plenty of people from both ends of the political spectrum who say things like, "Bush! Clinton! I'm so sick of hearing those names!" When the very mention of your familiy name causes regular people to figuratively spit on the floor, I'd call that a weakness.
Maybe Jeb can run in '12.

Posted by: Bryan at February 15, 2007 2:04 PM

Except for his last name, unfortunately. I believe Jeb would make a fine president but I do not see how he can overcome name fatigue.

Posted by: Rick T. at February 15, 2007 2:04 PM

Two term presidents leave with a warm fuzzy glow around their names. It's six years in that we hate them.

Posted by: oj at February 15, 2007 3:08 PM


No, McCain is going to be the nominee. I don't think he's the best candidate and he's likely to be an awful president.

Posted by: oj at February 15, 2007 3:10 PM

oj, Again I am confused. Weren't you a McCain fan just a very short time ago?

Posted by: erp at February 15, 2007 3:22 PM

He's fickle, isn't he?

Posted by: Bryan at February 15, 2007 3:41 PM

No. As I've said repeatedly, McCain will win because it's his turn, it's a hierarchical party, and Jeb -- the only guy who'd beat him -- isn't going to run.

Posted by: oj at February 15, 2007 4:04 PM

If Jeb had won his first shot at the FL Gov, he would have been President in 2000. But now he never will be.

Posted by: b at February 15, 2007 5:55 PM